Monthly Archives: July 2011

Sheds and bugs and books, oh my!

GUYS! GUYS!!! THE SHED IS SO CLOSE TO BEING DONE!

Now why in the world is it taking this long? Because:

Mariana adding right angle pieces to the back wall, since we decided retro-actively that a post was probably a good idea to keep the wall from warping.

  • we’re not pros
  • Mariana was in Spain
  • we have to find miles of extension cords to power the drill with electricity from South (where there are a lot of Russians living at the moment)
  • things go wrong… all. the. time.
  • we forget bits… and improvise (see Figure 3. )
  • we only sometimes have a car
  • there is no such thing as a right angle
  • lunch breaks
  • Mariana and I are both pretty small.

BUT we’re getting it done. How?

  • we work long hours in rain and heat (all of today in 92 degrees, for example) (future potential employees read: dedicated)
  • lots of grunting
  • lots of “YEAH! YEAH! TAKE THAT YOU SCREW!”
  • patience

    Figure 3. So I said we're good at improvising. This hand-held screw bit served us until lunch, when we got a legit bit. Someone might chide us for that, but it worked.

  • we’ve learned to “think critically and problem solve.” If we come away from our college years feeling as though we learned nothing, we are forgetting these most valuable skills… manifesting themselves in the most creative (and perhaps illegitimate) of ways (again, figure 3.)
  • burritos as fuel
  • nice neighbors and friends lending us things (thanks Simon and the Frisbee boys!)

We’re hoping to add the last wall and the roof Monday evening (we’d love some help!)

After that, all that’s left to do is re-align the door (things go wrong, ok?), nail some scraps in to keep things from warping and/or moving, throw on some gutters, add some shelves and hooks, put the tools in, and paint it beautifully! (“As long as it’s done tastefully.” -John Vik, facilities man.)

The shed! We left it with the final wall clamped on and the door more or less attached. We'll be adding the roof soon!

In other news…

The squash has taken over. I’ll devote a separate post to this. But here’s a picture:

Part of the garden, taken over by squash.

And the final news of the day:

Through the magic of Freecycle and Craigslist, I scored the garden 2 gardening books: The Edible Container Garden and A Gardener’s Guide to Cacti: Succulents and Foliage.

I also got a box of cream colored tile (that stuff is so incredibly heavy) that I’m hoping we can use as a walkway to the garden, or at least as a little bit of decoration. If you have an idea about what to do with it, email me: mae.humiston@tufts.edu and we’ll see if it’s feasible!

And the actual final news of the day: there was a cute bug on the shed. Someone let me know if this thing has intentions to ruin the garden.

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Mid-July Harvest Bounty

Check out photos from our recent harvest day!

Collards, a green bell pepper, squash, chili peppers, leek greens

Banana peppers, tomatillos, green beans, squash blossoms, more squash and a baby zucchini

The lovely Mariah, Suzanne and Mae on our harvesting afternoon.

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Season’s Eatings

It’s interesting to think back to my childhood, and recognize my complete ignorance of seasons. As weird as that sounds. Having grown up in California, the weather isn’t always much of an indicator for the calendar. And fruits and vegetables weren’t in season, they were just there- under the bright fluorescent lights at the grocery store.
Now that I have spent two years in New England and eating fruits and veggies is no longer an obligatory task, seasonality has a whole new meaning.

I now understand why peaches are so expensive in April, why fava beans are only fresh in May, why strawberries seem to be overflowing all the way through the summer, and why root vegetables are so popular in November.

Especially this summer, as I keep up with the bounty of the Tufts Garden and watch the magic unfold at the Full Circle Farm (see older post), I understand that we have to stop depending on southern-hemisphere Chile to provide us with produce during its off season. It’s important to learn that we can’t always have it all. That’s what makes each fruit or vegetable that much more enjoyable.

In May, I could have bought a pound of plums at Safeway for $3.50 a pound. Instead, I waited for the obscenely juicy, ripe, local, $1.50 a pound ones that didn’t crop up at the farmer’s market until early July. I can’t even explain how excited I am for the flavorful and bright tomatoes that are taking over each stand right now.

The sublime FRESHNESS that comes with eating seasonally even reduces cooking time, I swear. I can’t bear to bake those gorgeous apricots into a tart, I’d rather bite into the plump meat, letting the juices run unchecked beneath the band of my watch. Pureeing tomatoes to make a soup? Criminal. I’ll eat those just like that apricot.

This may seem exaggeratedly crunchy, but I guess that’s why my friends tease me for lusting for green beans while they crave cheese fries.

But try it. “Eating locally” just comes along when you eat seasonally. It’s not about shopping at Whole Foods or making a point. It’s just that much yummier.

Pick something at the garden. Eat it right then and there.

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Conundrums posed by a Costata

If you saw this in your fridge, what would YOU call it?

That was exactly the question I was faced with when I brought home this unidentifiable Godzilla back from the most recent Harvest Day. My housemates asked me, “Suzanne, is that a zucchini in our fridge? Why is it so huge?” I was also under the impression that it was a zucchini, albeit a monstrous one, until I gave into the doubts in my mind and did some research.

What did I find? At first, not much. There are only so many ways that one can type “huge green zucchini-like vegetable name cooking help!” into Google without getting the same results. But soon, I found a likely candidate on a specialty produce website: “Star-Spangled Squash.” Cute, right? Like ours, it is so called because when you slice the squash vertically, it produces star-shaped rounds.

But that name wasn’t very helpful. There were very few recipe suggestions, and all I got was a lot of Fourth-of-July related websites. Finally, I think I figured out what our vegetable was: Costata Romanesca squash. Beautiful, right? This vegetable is an Italian heirloom variety, and it seems to straddle the line between summer squash and zucchini (maybe someone reading this could clarify things?). Also, according to www.harvestwizard.com, it is considered the “best textured and the best tasting” of the summer squash! Even when mature, its rind is never bitter, and the flesh has a velvety, nutty flavor. As I was already two steps into my Curried Zucchini Soup preparation, I decided to push valiantly on with my newly discovered vegetable. And so, I present to you:

Curried Costata Romanesca Squash Soup

(adapted from chef Susan Beach and TheKitchn)

Serves 6-8

3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 pound Costata Romanesca squash, washed and diced into 1-inch cubes
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth, homemade or good quality canned
2 cloves garlic, trimmed and sliced thinly
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 cup whole milk or half and half

  1. Make a roux by melting butter in a small saucepan. Mix in flour and stir over medium-low heat until golden brown and smells like roasted nuts. (For a gluten-free version, skip the roux and cook 2 medium peeled and quartered potatoes along with the zucchini.
  2. Place the following ingredients in a soup pot: zucchini, onion, broth, garlic, curry, bay leaf, cayenne, white pepper and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, turn down the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
  3. Remove the bay leaf. Add the roux to the soup.
  4. Remove the vegetable mixture from the heat and CAREFULLY puree with a hand immersion blender or a standard blender in batches.
  5. Return the puree to the remaining broth. Stir in milk or half and half.

To serve, reheat the soup over low heat, and drizzle each portion with a few drops of chili oil, if desired.

——————————————————-

I imagine that this recipe could be used as a template for getting rid of any excess vegetables (yeah, I see you CSA-ers out there!). It is healthy, relatively hands-off, and it just gets better overnight when all the flavors meld together. Mmmmm. Plus, the curry will make you sweat and cool you down!

But it is important to note that just one vegetable presents countless questions. Even after I figured out what it was, I am still wondering: “Are the Star-Spangled squash and the Costata Romanesca squash the same thing? If so, is the former just an Americanized name of the latter? Why haven’t I encountered this before? And what does heirloom really mean?” Our mystery squash also brings up the importance of cultural preservation of produce and trending in food. Just as the açai berry was pulled from the depths of the Amazon into a worldwide marketing phenomenon, what will be next?

And now for the next exotic vegetable that our lovely garden has thrown at us: Chinese yellow cucumber. Anyone have any experience with these? We only have one (so far), but I am already intrigued by the descriptions and possibilities. Until then, cheers!

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What to do with all those banana peppers. Or at least what I did.

So the banana pepper plant went CRAZY. So I had a lot of banana peppers in my house. I appreciate them, but I’m not very excited by them. I’m not even really sure I’ve had them on anything besides sandwiches… UNTIL NOW.

I know I love cheese stuffed things. I know I love fried things (yeah, this is not a healthy food I’m about to show you). And Betty here (she’s a little odd) had this great little recipe for the fry batter for frying up banana peppers. I took the liberty of stuffing my peppers with mozzarella, although I think next time I’d like to have a stronger cheese.

This is Betty’s batter:

Capsicum annuum (Banana peppers are a cultivar of this species) and seeds

1 cup self-rising flour
1 egg, well beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
sweet banana peppers, washed, dried, seeded with pulp removed, and cut into serving pieces
2 inches of cooking oil in a deep fryer or pot on the stove (I used peanut oil.)
In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup self-rising flour, 1 well-beaten egg, 1 cup milk, and 1/4 cup vegetable oil. Stir completely, or blend with an electric mixer. Have your sweet banana peppers prepared for cooking.

(My “prepared banana peppers” were seeded through a slit part-way down the side, then stuffed with grated mozzarella cheese, but not enough to force the slit to stay open.)

Heat 2 inches of oil in an electric deep fryer or a pot on the stove to somewhere between 345 degrees and 375 degrees. With tongs, dip pepper pieces in batter, allowing excess batter to drip into bowl, and then transfer to hot oil. You may fry several pieces at the same time. Fry until golden brown on both sides, and then remove with tongs or other utensil and place on paper toweling to drain. When all pieces are fried and removed, pat the upper side to remove any further excess oil… THEN FEAST.

The photo is a little blurry but these bad boys were delicious!

(Reduce/Reuse/Recycle: You can save frying oil by waiting for it to cool, then straining it through a coffee filter and storing it in a bottle. I label mine “frying oil” so people don’t get confused)

ANDDD… The garden now has a little gate (a little bootleg, but we love it). It’s mostly to deter the GIANT RABBIT that’s hanging around.

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Nommin’

The title of this post makes me think of a girl in my brother’s grade named Naaman.

Them squash are a comin! The day that we put the shed onto its foundation, we all got some zucchini as a thank-you from the garden. I personally was very tired when I got home that day, so the simplest of zucchini cooking was in order:

  • drizzle some oil in a pan
  • throw in some sliced zucchini
  • sprinkle on some garlic. salt. pepper.
  • eat when looking tasty and slightly browned

Delicious. Simple, but oh-so-tasty. (If you remember my first adventures with kale… it was basically the same recipe. A winner.)

An unflattering shot of my zucchini dinner

A couple others have submitted their recipes for garden goods. And they make my tummy growl.

Micaela Belles gives us one for our darkest moments… those in which we have an excess of the darkest greens. Spinach. (actually, that doesn’t sound like a dark moment, but it IS a dark leafy green… as are arugula, kale, romaine lettuce, swiss chard, and mustard greens. OMG MUSTARD GREENS):

SPINACH MUFFINS (WHAT?? YESS!!)

Dry Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup oat flour (note: you could probably sub flours of do 1 1/2 cups total of a single flour, instead of 2)
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 single serving applesauce (or 1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup PACKED, triple washed baby spinach, chopped by food processor into small bits (see photos above)
  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp lemon zest (depending on how lemon-y you want it)
  • Optional ingredient: 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, plus extra for topping

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F and prepare a 12 cup muffin tin with non-stick spray.

2. Add dry ingredients into a medium bowl and whisk together.

3.Whisk to beat egg and sugar together till light (I did this by hand for just a couple minutes).

4. Whisk in the rest of the wet ingredients.

5. Pour dry ingredient mixture into the wet ingredient mixture, add 1/4 cup walnuts if desired, and stir gently just to combine – do not over-mix.

6. Pour muffin batter into muffin tin cups – about 3/4 full each. If using walnuts, sprinkle walnuts on top of each muffin.

7. Bake for 14-17 minutes until centers set or a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

8. Cool at least 10-15 minutes before serving.

And Suzanne Lis sent this mouth-watering recipe from thehealthyfoodie.net. And she lives one street over. We’re feasting soon.

RATATOUILLE PIZZA!

DOUGH

“SAUCE”

TOPPINGS

  • ½ eggplant, in very thin slices
  • ½ zucchini, in very thin slices
  • 1 tomato, in very thin slices
  • Salt, pepper and za’atar, to taste
  • 2 tbsp red onions, finely chopped
  • 100g low fat Mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 25g goat cheese, crumbled (GOAT CHEESE)
  • 1 tsp fresh parsley, chopped

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Preheat oven to 500F.
  • Roll or stretch dough into 10-12 inch disc and lay on a baking sheet. Spread fermented garlic flowers (crushed garlic would do the trick) and sprinkle generously with za’atar.
  • Top with mozzarella cheese, followed by aubergine slices, tomato and zucchini, then sprinkle red onion. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and more za’atar.
  • Bake in the oven for about 8-10 minutes, until cheese is melted and starts to colour on the edge.
  • Take out of the oven, sprinkle goat cheese and return to the oven for 2-3 minutes, just to soften goat cheese
  • Take pizza out of the oven and sprinkle fresh parsley.

I plan on eating some squash tonight. And maybe some breaded banana peppers… I’ll let you know how it goes…

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rainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrain part 2

Things got a little crazy and I’m a little behind on the updates. But the shed is standing! And here’s why:

The shed with all the wood in it and a tarp as a makeshift roof.

Two weeks ago, tireless Mariana spent several days digging out mud. Because it rained. Every day. But she knew she was leaving for Spain on that Sunday so she oh-so-kindly- spent the most miserable of days digging 3 foot deep holes so we could get the rebar it. “Why not just pound the rebar in?” you might ask (I did). Because there are a bajillion rocks per square foot in that soil (mud) and only the luckiest of the luckiest could have pounded a 3.5′ long rebar into the ground without striking one and feeling the shock-wave resonate through their bones. And so she dug. And the rain fell. And I came after work to help a little, but it wasn’t much compared to Mariana’s hours of work and mounds of dirt (mud) to show for it. Before she had to leave, we got the rebar in. It didn’t look like much, but oh, we were proud. And sore. And soaked.

It wasn't much to look at, but that rebar isn't going anywhere for a long time. And it's deceptively dry in this picture.

Once the rebar was in, the next step was to pour concrete to level the ground and secure the cinder blocks. But concrete setting and rain… they just don’t go together. And Mariana was leaving to soon! She couldn’t just spend a day kickin it! Not when there was a shed to be built! So in a feat of efficiency, Mariana and Mariah assembled part of the shed (but not all of it because we still had to move it on to the foundation… whenever that might be done). Oh, it was gratifying to see some semblance of a shed start coming together!

The partially-assembled shed.

Then she was off. Mariana left for Spain, but Liam came up from DC for a visit… and some manual labor. I got him out on a couple beautiful (read: hot.) mornings pouring and mixing concrete. As Liam put it, our work was “a little bootleg, but it did the trick.” Over the course of two days, we secured the cinderblocks in the ground (level and all!), made friends with the guy at Hillsides Hardware (Him: “I got this slushie beside where you get your nails done, you get your nails done?” Me: “Not since I was really little…” Him: “You’re still little!” Me: Sigh.), and cemented carriage bolts into the cinder blocks.

One of the carriage bolts in it's final position, with a nut and washer to hold the floor fast.

The bolts stuck out of the cement, which wasn’t so hard to engineer. The tough part was getting them to match the distances of the holes Mariana had drilled for them in the floor of the shed. We triple measured everything, and we did an OK job.

I sent out a beacon (text) to abled-bodies far and wide to move the great shed. I got a great crew. With very few problems (trees in the way and the delicacy of guiding all the bolts through all the holes), we landed the shed on the foundation. And it’s sturdy! We’re going to have to wait for Mariana to get back to put the roofing on, but later this week some of the team that helped move the shed is going to finish priming all the wood and maybe we’ll stick the rest of the walls on (in need of a drill)! I’m so excited to have a shed, and I’m so excited to have friends working together to make it happen!

The team that moved the shed. LOVE.

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